Cuir Fetiche is a name that might conjure up thoughts of fetishes, whips, and bondage leather, but put that aside completely and think instead of grand floral oriental classics. Specifically, vintage Bal à Versailles, perhaps with a tiny drop of Serge Lutens‘ Cuir Mauresque added in as well. This is not the world of 50 Shades of Grey or Etat Libre‘s Rien; it’s the 1950s world of Dior, Cecil Beaton, and Jean Desprez where women swirl in ball gowns and long gloves amidst clouds of sweet, lightly animalic floralcy, although some people think of Cuir de Lancome, Cuir de Russie, or Knize Ten instead.
Regardless of which fragrance classic is referenced, you should put aside all thoughts of modern or masculine leathers with their smoky, tarry, blackened birch and you should think of clouds of flowers instead. They are infused with citrus and chypre-ish elements before being placed atop iris chamois or suede gloves that have been coated with civet, resulting in a sweet, lightly animalic floral bouquet that gradually turns more oriental through golden flourishes of amber and cinnamon-scented resins laced with vanilla. That’s Cuir Fetiche in the broadest of strokes. It’s an incredibly pretty fragrance, one that I’ve been tempted to buy for myself on several occasions, but it’s also sufficiently familiar that I’ve held off in actually doing so.
Cuir Fetiche is an eau de parfum that was created by Jean-Paul Millet Lage and released in 2011. To me, the name and, to some extent, the marketing image create the impression of a far tougher scent than Cuir Fetiche actually is. This is not a black or butch leather. Actually, the fragrance typically comes in an orange-red, laced-up leather casing that is meant to replicate a woman’s corset. It’s called The Leather Edition and it costs more than Maitre Parfumeur’s usual plain bottle format, although I did find Cuir Fetiche in that cheaper bottle at one retailer.
MPG’s description, however, clearly emphasizes Cuir Fetiche’s femininity:
Femininity of a naked shoulder, slight pleats of a long leather glove pulling up on the arm, sensuality of leather against the skin to a voluptuous perfume, where the red tangerine reveals a heart of leather, jasmine and ylang-ylang. The base notes, intense and extremely feminine, blend the warmth of the musk with the richness of the grey amber and sandal wood.
Top Notes: Red Tangerine, Bergamot, Geranium, Lemon
Heart Notes: Leather, Ylang-Ylang, Jasmine, Rose, Iris
Base Notes: Musk, Grey Amber, Sandal Wood, Patchouli
Luckyscent gives a slightly different list which also includes vanilla and cedar wood:
Mandarin, bergamot, lemon, geranium, leather accord, ylang-ylang, jasmine, rose, iris, vanilla, musk, ambergris, patchouli, cedar wood, sandalwood.
I’ve described Cuir Fetiche’s general outlines in the nutshell summary up above, but I’m going to skip giving one of my typical, detailed breakdowns for the fragrance. Quite frankly, given the enormous overlap between Cuir Fetiche and Vintage Bal à Versailles on my skin, it would probably be a waste of your time. Bal à Versailles (commonly nicknamed “BaV”) is far too well-known by the sort of people who read perfume blogs like this one. Either they know it, own it, or have mothers who wore the fragrance. Men and women alike still wear vintage BaV which is widely available on eBay, often at better prices than many modern niche fragrances if you opt for certain formulations. In fact, I’ve seen men rave about BaV on Basenotes in a way that they don’t do for other vintage fragrances typically associated with women’s genre. In short, if you are one of the handful of people who is unfamiliar with BaV, you might just do better to read my detailed review for the Jean Desprez legend because I found Cuir Fetiche to be extremely similar.
To be specific, I think Cuir Fetiche resembles the cologne version of vintage Bal à Versailles, although there are some differences that I’ll get to in a moment. When you see the word “cologne,” don’t think of either men’s fragrances or the weak modern concentration of scent. Bal à Versailles’ vintage cologne feels like today’s eau de parfum concentration, while I think its vintage parfum form would be comparable to a modern extrait. Some of that is simply the result of evaporation yielding a more intense, concentrated bouquet, but none of it is like a “cologne” in either of the two ways we think of such fragrances today.
I did a side-by-side test between Cuir Fetiche eau de parfum and my bottle of 1960s vintage BaV cologne. They are not identical, but they are extremely close. BaV is richer, more floral right from the start, dominated by indolic jasmine and orange blossom, and it only slowly gains a citrusy aspect. It always feels like a floral oriental, and never once feels as though it has some chypre-style elements. In contrast, Cuir Fetiche has a fractionally greener aspect right from the start, perhaps because of its geranium, and it combines with the slightly lemony bergamot to feel like a nod towards the chypre genre. Cuir Fetiche has no orange blossom and the dominant flower in the opening stage is rose, although jasmine becomes a big player in both fragrances later on. Without the orange blossom, Cuir Fetiche’s floralcy is not as sweet as BaV’s, and it’s definitely not indolic. Cuir Fetiche also differs in having a woody component that becomes quite noticeable later on, far more so than anything in BaV. That gave Cuir Fetiche a quiet undercurrent of pepperiness that I detected when I applied a large quantity of the scent, and my guess is that it stems from either the cedar or the faux sandalwood. I wasn’t very keen on it.
I also wasn’t hugely enamoured by Cuir Fetiche’s animalic note which differs quite a bit from the one in vintage BaV cologne. Cuir Fetiche has a sharp, scratchy civet synthetic that reminds me of the rather unpleasant one used in some modern versions of Jicky eau de toilette. It’s even scratchier than even the one in Malle’s reformulated Musc Ravageur, perhaps because that fragrance comes with the ameliorating effects of ambrette. Vintage BaV cologne, however, has what appears to be real civet, in addition to castoreum. Its animalic accord is incredibly smooth, more subtle or better blended into the other notes, and richer in its depth. In fact, the same could be said of every part of vintage BaV as compared to Cuir Fetiche because, as a whole, the MPG fragrance is consistently sharper, not as rounded, and, most importantly, significantly thinner in body and richness.
In all fairness, no modern fragrance that is subject to draconian IFRA/EU restrictions on ingredients could ever be as opulent as Bal a Versailles in its oldest form. How can one really compare them? It seems completely unfair to do so since Cuir Fetiche is at a massive disadvantage right from the start. Before I did the side-by-side, I thought Cuir Fetiche was a really lovely scent. Not one that was really worth its elevated price for the red lace-up jacket version, but definitely one that I repeatedly considered buying at the hugely slashed, discounted prices that are available. (More on that later.) The only thing that made me hesitate was the obviousness of the synthetics at a higher quantity application, that scratchy quality to the civet and the pepperiness of the wood. I always apply a large number of sprays for my own personal use, and I’m finicky enough about synthetics that even a huge $140 discount savings didn’t overcome my issue. It doesn’t help that Cuir Fetiche feels like a watery, boring, pale shadow of a scent that I already own in wonderfully lush, vintage form.
If one puts aside the issue of vintage BaV and looks at Cuir Fetiche solely in a vacuum, it’s a remarkably pretty fragrance that drew me in again and again. The rose is soft but sweet, infused with civet, brisk bergamot, and the faintest hint of vanilla creaminess, then given leaves of green by way of geranium and a thin woody stem of peppery cedar. The flower grows out of a base composed of iris, never stony, cold, or damp, but more like floral suede that bears the merest, tiniest, most fractional dusting of orris-y powder. Unlike Chanel’s Cuir de Russie, a fragrance to which Cuir Fetiche is occasionally compared, the iris is merely a hushed breath, rather than a strong or powerful presence. Plus, there is not one iota of soapiness, aldehydes, or anything truly animalic. In fact, at no point did anything in Cuir Fetiche evoke mounds and mounds of soap bubbles atop a hot, steaming pile of poop. (Yes, I’m a heretic who loathes Cuir de Russie. It did not do well on my skin.)
Over time, Cuir Fetiche changes. It slowly turn more oriental, golden, and gentler still. Jasmine joins the party, while ylang-ylang indirectly adds a sense of velvety softness to the bouquet as a whole at the start of the 3rd hour. Around the same time, the vanilla grows stronger, coating the petals and mingling with the cinnamon-scented resins that now begin to swirl around. The iris vanishes, but there is still a sense of something akin to calfskin and suede in the base, a very impressionistic and abstract aroma with a predominantly floral facade. A ambered goldenness blankets the notes, adding warmth and a certain coziness but no heaviness. In fact, the fragrance now feels quite sheer, airy, and light, almost more like a strong eau de toilette by my standards than an eau de parfum. After 5 or 6 hours, Cuir Fetiche grows spicier, either as a result of the ylang-ylang’s spicy side or the resins which have become a major part of the scent. When smelt from afar, Cuir Fetiche is a shimmering, seamless, airy mix of spicy, floral, civet, woody, vanillic, and ambered notes. There is far more jasmine than rose now, just like in Bal à Versailles. The civet is still scratchy, there is still a subtle pepperiness, but the rest of it is very pretty.
The oriental elements take over completely in Cuir Fetiche’s drydown. Midway during the 7th hour, the fragrance smells primarily of darkly balsamic, cinnamon-scented resins and amber, marbled with only the thinnest veins of civet, vanillic creaminess, and lightly powdered floralcy. Something about it occasionally makes me think of MFK’s Ciel de Gum in its later stages, perhaps because of the spiciness of the resins. Cuir Fetiche eventually turns into nothing more than slightly spicy, slightly sweet goldenness. It dies away the same way, generally 10.5 hours from the start with the equivalent of 2 small sprays and about 8.25 hours with the equivalent of one. With the larger quantity, Cuir Fetiche generally opened with about 3-4 inches of projection and about 4 inches of sillage. It typically became a skin scent after 4.5 hours.
I’ve talked a lot about vintage Bal à Versailles, but Cuir Fetiche is usually compared to other famous classics instead. Women frequently bring up Cuir de Lancome. It’s been a long, long time since I tried that fragrance and I don’t recall the details or particulars enough to compare the two, but, yes, generally, there is a resemblance. I think it’s a closer fit than the other classic to which Cuir Fetiche is typically compared: Knize Ten. That’s the one which men bring up as a reference, but personally I don’t find a huge overlap. The main reason is that Knize Ten is a significantly more leather-centric scent on my skin and, more importantly, it wafts a strong, clear birch tar aroma. Knize Ten is one of the fragrances that people point to as the father of the modern style of “leather” fragrances, along with Chanel’s Cuir de Russie. Yes, Knize Ten has a floral component (one that is far stronger in the Knize Ten Golden Edition that you can read about at the same link up above), but both fragrances are unquestionably leather first and foremost.
That is not the case with Cuir Fetiche on my skin because the flowers dominated above all else. To the extent that there is any leather, I thought it was a secondary element, maybe even a tertiary one. True, there was more leatheriness and less floralcy when I applied a smaller quantity of scent, but it was still nothing like the leather in Knize Ten. More to the point, I think any leather there may be in Cuir Fetiche is the Peau d’Espagne version of it, not the modern birch tar one found in Knize or Cuir de Russie. The Perfume Shrine has a useful article on the differences between the two that you can read if you want more details but, in a nutshell, Peau d’Espagne is an older style that dates back to the 16th century when a citrusy, aromatic, spiced, animalic, and floral paste was used to scent leather products like gloves. It only indirectly recreated the idea of “leather” via civet and/or castoreum. Birch tar or cade was not used. The result was an impressionistic aroma rather than an actual leather one, a scent that really recalls calfskin gloves, chamois or skin rather than the black, tarry leather in modern fragrances.
There are a few things that may account for how Cuir Fetiche manifested itself on my skin, and why it was Bal a Versailles that came to mind instead of the Knize referenced by others. First, skin chemistry is going to play a big role in what notes are emphasized, so maybe Cuir Fetiche will end up being more of a traditional leather on you than it was on me. Skin chemistry would certainly account for the subtle “ashtray” note and Tabac Blond vibe that some people experienced in Cuir Fetiche’s drydown. Second, I have to wonder if Cuir Fetiche has been reformulated since the time it debuted back in 2011. Typically, perfume companies tend to reformulate after 3-4 years. Plus, the latest round of IFRA/EU restrictions led to a flurry of reformulations in 2013-2014 in all the fragrance genres. In short, my sample of Cuir Fetiche may well have less leather than it once did.
There is a lot of discussion available on Cuir Fetiche, but I won’t waste your time with long comparative quotes because almost all of it centers on how Cuir Fetiche compares to the other fragrances mentioned here. I’ll merely provide you with links to read further if you should wish. For example, on Luckyscent, a number of people find Cuir Fetiche resembles Cuir de Lancome more than Cuir de Russie. On Basenotes, people bring up either Knize Ten, Cuir de Russie, Cuir Mauresque, or some combination thereof. On Fragrantica, there is talk of all those fragrances and Tabac Blond as well. Most people seem to love Cuir Fetiche, but a few people mention an “ashtray” note in the drydown, while a handful of others bring up low longevity. Several find Cuir Fetiche to be a highly refined leather. For “Alfarom,” it was too refined. He called Cuir Fetiche too tame, “too polished” and “polite.” He wrote that older MPG fragrances appealed to him because of “their rough edge and challenging power that Cuir Fetiche completely lacks.”
In terms of blog reviews, there are several dating, all dating back to 2011. Musette at the Perfume Posse wrote a rave review that gushed about Cuir Fetiche’s sexiness. The Non-Blonde was less enthusiastic, though neutral, calling it a polite, restrained, office-appropriate scent that was quiet and very low in sillage. Kevin at Now Smell This found Cuir Fetiche to be similar to Cuir de Russie but “tougher,” more masculine, “less smooth and floral.”
Given the number of similar fragrances out there, it’s worth talking about Cuir Fetiche’s price for a moment. As I mentioned at the start, the fragrance typically comes in an orange-red, lace-up covering that resembles a corset and this “Leather Edition” costs $225 or €160 for 100 ml of eau de parfum. I saw the bottle in person in Rome last summer and, I have to say, I thought the red casing looked rather cheap. I certainly don’t think it warrants the price hike from the more inexpensive €115 bottle without the corset, but hardly any retailer sells that version. (I only found it at First in Fragrance.) In my opinion, $225 or €160 is far too high a price given the number of similar fragrances out there for less, Cuir Fetiche’s low sillage, and its rather EDT-like longevity. However, it’s perfectly priced and very tempting at around $89, €82, or £62, which is how much Cuir Fetiche costs at one discount retailer (which ships worldwide). That is a good deal, and far less than what you’d pay for Cuir de Russie, Knize, vintage BaV, or Tabac Blond.
That low discount price is why I think Cuir Fetiche is worth sampling for yourself if you love any of the fragrances mentioned here. Even if you already own one of the other ones, you might still want to try Cuir Fetiche if you’re looking for a tame, very refined, soft version of either a floral leather or a mildly, barely animalic floral oriental for the office. You’ll never gas out your colleagues or raise eyebrows with Cuir Fetiche. It’s a polished scent with sex appeal.
Disclosure: My sample was provided courtesy of Luckyscent. That did not impact this review. I do not do paid reviews, and my opinions are my own.